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A Fond Look Back at the Beauty Trends of 2016

RIP 100 layers of makeup.

Close-up of two models, one with dramatic blue eyeshadow and the other with glittery lips Photo: Francois Durand/Getty Images

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

There are a lot of beauty trends that have been with us over the last few years that are still going strong: contouring, messy bobs, geometric manicures, matte lipstick. This is not about those.

In this celebration of beauty from the past year, I want to acknowledge all the silly, delightful, and delightfully silly trends and products that 2016 produced. Many of them were fleeting (thank god), but some may prove to become classics. Either way, take a walk down a very glittery and shimmery 2016 memory lane, won’t you?

Naomi Campbell with glitter lips at the VMAs.
Photo: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Glitter Lips

Glitter lips have always been around on the fringe, but makeup artist Pat McGrath put them front and center when she featured them on the runway at the Atelier Versace show. Shortly afterwards, she released a glitter lip kit. It sold out quickly, and since then the look has been showing up all over Instagram, YouTube, and even Racked’s Facebook page. (I’ve even seen it out in the wild... once. It’s very hard to eat, drink, or speak while wearing glitter lips.)

Chrome Manicures

Everyone knows that shiny is good, so it’s not surprising that this trend took off in a big way. Imagine tiny mirrors on your nails and you’ve got the visual. This manicure technique uses chrome pigments in a gel base and is not a DIY-at-home sort of procedure. SO. SHINY.

100 Layers of Makeup

The hearty beauty pioneers of YouTube and Instagram started the 100-layers-of-various-things challenge presumably because 57 layers of contouring product wasn’t enough. The result was a few weeks of oneupmanship, which included 100 layers of foundation, 100 coats of liquid lipstick, and 100 coats of nail polish. The logical conclusion was Jenna Marbles doing 100 layers of everything, including lashes and self tanner. I fear for her bodily toxin load, so let’s not do that one anymore.

The Rise of the Beauty Boy

For the past few years, male Instagram makeup artists like Jeffree Star, Patrick Starr (no relation), and Manny Gutierrez have quietly built up loyal followings for their makeup prowess. This year, Ipsy appointed the adorable Gabriel Zamora as its first-ever boy stylist. Then the 19-year-old James Charles, who went viral earlier in the year for setting up his own lighting and reshooting his senior yearbook picture, was named as the first ever CoverGirl ambassador — a CoverBoy, if you will. Because boys can contour, too.

A La Mer bottle Photo: La Mer

Micellar Water

Oh, how the French are laughing at us for this one. Micellar water has been around for years there, started to hit stateside last year, and is now here in full force. Every company from Garnier ($9) to La Mer ($90) has one. It’s basically water with tiny exploding micro-capsules of oil suspended in it that clean your face without water. A French woman once told me they’re so popular there because the water is hard and dries out skin. Either way, it’s a great product. I use it in the morning instead of a full cleanser and water wash. Try this one, this one, this one (the OG), or this one. They’re all good!

Rainbow Highlighter

Strobing (the word for highlighting since 2014) has been going strong as a trend, so obviously it was time to shake things up. What better way than to contour with ROYGBIV? Etsy shop Bitter Lace Beauty went viral for these babies, and a zillion copycats appeared. (Bitter Lace Beauty is apparently still receiving a lot of demand and is in the middle of a restock now.) Wet N Wild released a limited-edition rainbow highlighter this fall that sold out more or less instantly. Maybe we’re done now?

Spray-on Nail Polish

Nails Inc. launched spray nail polish last year in the UK and then brought it here in March. Milk Makeup has one, too. China Glaze had one. A few smaller brands offered one. While it seemed fun and anarchic to spray paint all over your hands, it’s really not the best nail polish delivery system. First of all: fumes. Second of all: cleaning nail polish off your skin. Third: the condition of your bathroom when you’re done. Just go get a gel mani and be done with it.

Catch me and my girls strutting on the @victoriassecret runway! Tonight!! 10/9c on CBS

A photo posted by Herieth Paul (@heriethpaul) on

Runway Hair Individuality

Continuing a trend that has been happening in, you know, REAL LIFE, fashion designers have finally started moving away from that thing where they make all the models look the same. It’s been building momentum over a few seasons now in the fashion world, but the pinnacle of individuality in runway hair was reached when Victoria’s Secret “allowed” several models (well, more than one, like last year) to stomp down the runway with their own hair, sans beach waves. Small victories. (Of course, there are still moments like Marc Jacobs’s colorful dreadlocks, which some called art and some called cultural appropriation.)

Metallic Makeup

This trend continues the theme of “makeup was so, so shiny in 2016 to help take our minds off the dumpster fire this year was.” It was also a summer Olympics year, so that probably raised metal’s (and medals’) profile. Swipes of metallic gold, silver, bronze, and of course, rose gold, were everywhere, from eyelids to lips. And yes, Pat McGrath had a hand in this trend also, releasing four limited-edition metallic pigments.

Light Masks

Horror movie or cutting-edge facial care? Both. Welcome to the most terrifying and most Instagrammable skincare trend of 2016: the light mask. Red and blue lights have been used by dermatologists and aestheticians for years. There is actual science behind them — red lights can potentially build up collagen and elastin in your skin, and blue lights can fight acne.

Portable handheld devices like the Baby Quasar have been popular, but the wearable version is a new iteration. Neutrogena just released a very affordable $35 mask for home use. What other product will scare your loved ones while also simultaneously giving you potentially firmer, clearer skin?

Alicia Keys without makeup Photo: John Shearer/Getty Images

High-Profile Women Wearing No Makeup in Public and Then Everyone Writing Think Pieces About It

If last year was the year of “I woke up like this” Instagram posts, 2016 was the year of “I’m going to get up on this national stage without a drop of makeup on because IDGAF.” The most high-profile of these were of, course, Alicia Keys and Hillary Clinton. And then everyone wrote hand-wringing think pieces or snarky remarks in a thousand comment sections across the universe.

As the wise Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie told me on this topic, “This is a conversation that I wish we didn’t have to have, but I understand that we have to have it because it’s what’s happening. I just think it’s so weird that women make individual choices and then absolute strangers think they can have all kinds of opinions about them.” Yes. Let’s move on from picking apart women’s faces. Please.

Esteé Lauder products Photo: Jamie Chung for Racked

Big Companies Buying Up All the Smaller Brands

Large beauty companies have always snatched up smaller buzzy brands, but this year the big guys were on an absolute acquisition rampage. Estée Lauder acquired Too Faced, Becca, and By Kilian. (And several other brands in the preceding two years.)

Shiseido bought Laura Mercier and RéVive. L’Oréal bought IT Cosmetics. Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club and Living Proof. And as VC funding has dried up a bit for beauty brands (well, except for Glossier), the little guys may be looking to join larger companies in 2017 as well.

Happy New Year!